Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website; BBC profile] on Thursday announced during a local TV broadcast that he will not sign a controversial law that would grant him several presidential powers for life, even if he stepped down from office. Nazarbayev would be given a significant amount of power [RFE/RL report] under the amendment, including being named the "leader of the nation." In addition, Nazarbayev would receive immunity from investigation or prosecution for life. The bill would make it illegal to deface images of him, distort facts of his biography, or publicly insult him and would guarantee that all his property and holdings cannot be confiscated for any reason. Nazarbayev's supporters believe that the president has earned such protections due to his ability as a nation builder. Opponents have urged the president not to sign the bill [AP report]. The draft law moved quickly through Kazakhstan's parliament earlier this month with the upper and lower houses [JURIST reports] approving the bill in under a week. The amendment has been criticized both internationally and domestically with opponents accusing Nazarbayev's supporters of trying to install a constitutional monarchy.
Kazakhstan has come under increased scrutiny as the first former Soviet republic to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website], a role it assumed at the beginning of 2010. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a report criticizing the government [JURIST report] for failing to curb torture. In February, Kazakh non-governmental organizations asked [submission, PDF] the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to address instances of torture and the use of unlawful evidence obtained through torture during trial. In August, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] condemned a Kazakh high court decision upholding the conviction [JURIST report] of a journalist charged with publishing state secrets. In December 2008, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the former Soviet nation is falling short [JURIST report] on reforms promised in advance of their assumption of the OSCE chairmanship.